Stone Story RPG (Free) is a very carefully crafted game. Every bit of it feels deft and deliberate, both good and bad. It catches the eye immediately with its distinctive ASCII art, particularly when it starts moving. The mysterious nature of the game evokes things like A Dark Room, and that’s a good place to be. What starts off as a very low-interaction idle-ish game quickly becomes a different beast as it opens up. But in the same way its friendlier points feel cleverly implemented, so too do its flaws. An oddity, to be sure. How does it all work out on balance? Let’s find out together.
I really need to work on my intro paragraphs. Well, nothing to be done about it now. Stone Story RPG has been around on PC via early access for a pretty long time now. Just as the game starts with a single stone and expands considerably from there, so too did this game grow over the years, finally achieving a state that its developer decided was worthy of being called a release version. That early access period means that the developer has received a lot of player feedback, and that presents an excellent opportunity to polish the heck out of an idea. Stone Story RPG is certainly that. Other than a few clumsy bits of the interface that might be a result of not being designed first as a touchscreen game, I don’t think I can find a single issue with the game that isn’t intentional.
The story starts with a stone. That stone is actually apparently the head of a person, a person we shall call hero. Or heroine. Or Dave. Whatever you like. That person collects more stones in the area around them, and finds the stones make for useful weapons against the creatures roaming about. Soon they find another resource, and that opens up things that can be crafted with resources. Weapons, armor, accessories, and chests can be found as well. The most important thing you’ll find are special stones which grant major new features and serve as the McGuffin you’re chasing for much of the adventure. Most are in the possession of large, angry, hungry things. Poke them or zap them as needed to pry those stones out of their grubby appendages.
As you play, the game gets a lot more complicated. Not terribly so, mind you. But you’ve got crafting systems, gear with elemental attributes, the ability to set up various load-outs, and more. You’ll discover new areas and run into puzzles you’ll have to solve using items. Naturally, lots of things to kill and goobers to collect. Before long you’ll have to make use of elemental weaknesses to have any serious chance of success, and you’ll find yourself flipping gear on the fly to collect resources and take advantage of weaknesses. Rather busy for an idle game, I’d say. And you absolutely need to keep your gear at its best. Whether by crafting, lucky drops, or picking things up from the shopkeeper, if you don’t have the right tools you’ll end up banging your head against the wall.
When things are going smoothly, Stone Story RPG is both highly compelling and a ton of fun. You’re discovering new things, new systems and mechanics are opening up, you’re knocking out quests, and you’re feeling clever for getting around various obstacles. I would say that the majority of the game’s several hours of runtime are very enjoyable. I’m going to start talking about the game’s issues soon, but I want to stress before going into them that you should not let them stop you from trying the game. It’s very good, and just watching it move is a bit of a magic trick. When it heats up and you’re juggling gear sets, barely defeating a boss thanks to your strategy, it’s tense in all the right ways. Go download it, it’s free. You have nothing but time to lose.
Okay, time to talk a little turkey. Stone Story RPG is a free game on mobile. It is not a free game on PC. There isn’t a single IAP that unlocks the game, either. A quick glance at the list of in-app purchases in the App Store shows things like bags of crystals that go up to fifty bucks, single weapons that cost ten bucks, and of course the obligatory DEALS that probably aren’t very good deals at all. This game would like you to pay something, which is fair. It isn’t asking for that thirty bucks flat that it wants over on Steam. How you feel about that is up to you. But the type of monetization used here forces me to really consider how it presents things.
For example, the game can be pretty grindy if you find yourself with inadequate gear or insufficient resources. Is that part of the natural design, or is it like that to nudge the player into making purchases or watching the daily incentivized ad? Is the boss difficult because conquering tough enemies is fun, or is it difficult because it wants you to buy the fancy weapon the shopkeeper is featuring? And gosh, those fancy weapons. The game really sells you on them, hard. They make your character look so much cooler, and they’re going to solve a lot of problems for you. Now, to the game’s credit, it doesn’t try to sell you anything for the first little while. And you genuinely don’t need to buy anything to beat the game’s main story, though you might have to do some grinding from time to time. But when a game is being this aggressive with its salesmanship, I just can’t help but feel a little put off.
I think Stone Story RPG is a game any fan of RPGs or mysterious adventures should give a bit of their time to. The presentation is very cool thanks to those ASCII graphics, and the soundtrack is almost as enchanting. It surprises in ways that some of my favorite games do, and it’s extremely clever in how it peels back its layers. You can play through the whole thing without paying a cent, and that’s a lot of quality entertainment for nothing. That being said, the way the game tries to sell its IAPs feels just a little… it feels like too strong of a word, but ‘repulsive’ is what immediately came to mind. Like having a slick dream and one of the characters pulls you aside to remind you that you’re asleep. There’s an illusion being woven here, and the game has to break it to try to sell you something, anything. A chip in a grand boulder of a game.